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Another bad reason to tax me more

This post by The Philosophical Cowboy isn’t exactly on the standard issues of White Rose, but does have a civil liberties fringe – basically, it appears we might be in for a resurgance of arguments for high taxes, based on alleged “negative externalities” of earning more money.

The solution? A 30% marginal tax rate to penalise the “pollution” involved, and a 30% additional tax to, well, just encourage people to take time off.

It’s worth reading for more background, and (a lot more objections), but I think this is the key objection that can be raised, and should be if this idea gets more circulation:

“But the main issue is a moral one. Let us stipulate that there are negative externalities from me working an extra 10 hours a week – I make X number of people feel bad, and I also substitute some leisure time I’d probably have rather not given up. So what?

Lots of rights have the potential for negative externalities. Without even being nasty, my use of my right to free speech can see myriads of your pleasing illusions shattered, destroying your happiness. I can act in innumberable ways that can make you uncomfortable or unhappy – I have a moral obligation to be a good neighbour, but the right not to (within obvious limits); I can drive you out of business by building a better mousetrap; my less reputable mates can date your daughter or woo away your significant other; I can advocate political positions you consider reprehensible (just ask me). And whilst I probably wouldn’t do most of those, I pretty much have the right to, and the government doesn’t get to stop me just because it would make you sad.

So why do you get to take 30% of my income just because me exercising my right to work as and where I can find useful things to do, just because it makes you want to work harder? There are certain “negative externalities” that shouldn’t be compared to things like pumping oil into a river, noise next door, etc – they’re not even the same ball game.

I think it’s fair to say (correct me if I’m wrong) you get to complain about a negative externality if it reduces the value of your property or that you extract from some right of yours. But just because me working harder can cause you to value your leisure less, doesn’t mean you should tax me – after all, on that rational, Martin Luther should have been hit with a 90% tax to pay for the Protestant work ethic…”

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